Rally returns to Ratchaprasong

Rally returns to Ratchaprasong

Thousands gather to say they've lost confidence in Prayut as parliamentarians prepare to vote on Saturday

Protesters occupy the Ratchaprasong area in central Bangkok on Friday, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)
Protesters occupy the Ratchaprasong area in central Bangkok on Friday, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

Protesters occupied the Ratchaprasong intersection on Friday for another rally calling for Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to step down, ahead of a crucial vote on the prime minister by lawmakers on Saturday.

Thousands of people converged on Ratchadamri Road outside the CentralWorld shopping centre to join the demonstration led by the Thalu Fah movement and the United Front of Thammasat and Demonstration. The event ended without incident around 8pm.

Protester Chanin Wongsri accused the government of corruption in its coronavirus vaccine deals by offering low-quality jabs to the public.

Anger over the government’s failure to contain the Covid-19 surge has fuelled rallies almost every day for the past month. Demonstrators are also opposed to any attempts to prolong the tenure of Gen Prayut, the former coup leader who is now in his eighth year as prime minister.

The groups that staged Friday’s gathering are linked to the student-led movement that began in June last year with calls for Gen Prayut to quit, a new constitution and, most controversially, reform of the monarchy.

But lately the government has also been facing protests by a seemingly revived movement led by veteran red-shirt activists Nattawut Saikuar and Sombat Boonngam-among, starting out as car convoys and changing to street rallies.

In addition, there have been almost daily confrontations in the Din Daeng area between police and young protesters, mainly on motorcycles, who have been dubbed Thalu Gaz for their willingness to face tear gas on a regular basis.

The red shirts staged a large street protest at the Asok intersection on Thursday and plan more gatherings after a break on Friday, until the prime minister resigns.

“We will use Asoke as a fort to hold activities against Prayut every day,” Mr Sombat told Reuters.

Mr Nattawut posted a Facebook message on Friday admitting the turnout at Asok was lower than expected on Thursday due to concerns about Covid. But he said he expected more people to join as the movement gained momentum.

All eyes will be on Parliament on Saturday when MPs are scheduled to vote on Gen Prayut and five other cabinet ministers who have been grilled by the opposition since Tuesday.

The voting takes place amid rumours of an attempt to remove Gen Prayut from power, while the prime minister has said he would not reshuffle his cabinet or dissolve the House.

Effigies symbolising people who died of Covid-19 hang from a skywalk above the Ratchaprasong intersection, where demonstrators condemned the Prayut government’s failure to save lives during the pandemic. (Photo by Chanat Katanyu)

Mr Nattawut said on Friday the voting results would shape the future direction of the red-shirt rallies, although he said earlier that he did not expect coalition MPs to betray Gen Prayut.

Gen Prayut needs a majority, or at least 242, of all 482 MP votes to survive the debate. The 18-party coalition now has 276 votes, including five from Move Forward MPs who defected to Bhumjaithai but officially remain with the progressive party, and a Prachachart MP who always votes in favour of the government.

The eight-party opposition, led by Pheu Thai and Move Forward, has 206 votes.

It remains to be seen whether signs of discord in the coalition, or growing crowds at anti-government rallies, will change the momentum.

Activists have vowed to continue defying Covid-related bans on big gatherings and stage street protests daily until Gen Prayut leaves office.

“People have died from his failure to deal with Covid-19, from his complacence, arrogance and from not listening to people’s voices, making it difficult for people to live,” student activist Wanwalee Thammasattaya told Reuters.

More than 600 people face protest-related charges for various violations in July and August, police said on Friday.

Young protesters challenge police during another rally in the Din Daeng area on Friday. (Photo by Pattarapong Chatpattarasill)

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